Why “defund the police” isn’t as crazy as it sounds

But it's still a bad slogan...

Off the top of my head I have a hard time thinking of a worse slogan than “defund the police.”

The people who say “defund the police” sound like they want to get rid of law enforcement entirely and live in some kind of Mad-Max-Without-Mel-Gibson society or give aromatherapy to mugging victims and that allows critics to paint defunding proponents as left-wing fanatics who have gone off the deep end.

Maybe some people are willing to go the Mad-Max-aromatherapy route, but when you look at what reasonable people mean when they say “defund the police’ it’s a lot more like “reorganize the police” or “retrain the police” or “take some of that police money we’re spending on surface-to-air missiles and spend it where it will do the most good” — which might be the right idea, but probably wouldn’t fit on a T-shirt.

If you’re still confused, here’s a quote from the Brookings Institute website:

“Defund the police” means reallocating or redirecting funding away from the police department to other government agencies funded by the local municipality. That's it. It's that simple. Defund does not mean abolish policing.

Nevertheless, the Trump campaign is already running misleading ads that suggest if Donald isn’t reelected the local chapter of the Hell’s Angels will feel free to drop by and watch Monday Night Football in your den and there won’t be any cops around to prevent that. (Hard to believe Trump would stoop to saying stuff that isn’t accurate, but there it is.)

Here’s another quote from Brookings:

A study using 60 years of data found that an increase in funding for police did not significantly relate to a decrease in crime. Throwing more police on the street to solve a structural problem is one of the reasons why people are protesting in the streets. Defunding police—reallocating funding away from police departments to other sectors of government—may be more beneficial for reducing crime and police violence.

If you want to read the entire Brookings article, here’s that link:


Adam Ruins Everything

The other day I was looking for something to watch on TV and came across a rerun of a show called “Adam Ruins Everything.” The show stars Adam Conover and here’s the premise: Adam looks at stuff we all believe and then provides highly inconvenient information that casts doubt on those beliefs.

The episode I watched was called “Adam Ruins Cops” and if you want to see what the show is like, here’s a clip:

As always, you shouldn’t listen to a single source – the Brookings Institute, Adam Conover or me – but here’s some of the evidence presented on “Adam Ruins Cops” that helps explain why reasonable people might want to “defund the police.”

The history of SWAT units

SWAT teams (Special Weapons and Tactics) were introduced in the 1960s to deal with stuff like hostage situations and prison escapes, but since those things don’t happen that often, those kinds of situations account for less than 10% of SWAT team deployments.

SWAT teams actually spend most of their time executing warrants for routine drug searches and about two thirds of SWAT team raids don’t uncover a weapon at the scene and four in ten raids don’t find any contraband.

Starting with the War on Drugs, back in the 1980s, the federal government encouraged the police to act more like military units and began giving extra cash to police forces that agreed to crack down on drug crimes. And in the 1990s the federal government began supplying police with military equipment, including grenade launchers, helicopters and mine resistant vehicles.

By 2013, 90% of American towns with a population over 50,000 people had militarized SWAT teams. SWAT deployments went from 3,000 a year before the 1980s, to 80,000 a year by 2014.

Use it or lose it.

There are people who believe most SWAT team deployments are far more aggressive than most situations call for and their military tactics actually escalate those situations, making them more dangerous for civilians and police officers.

OK, so maybe we don’t need Seal Team Six policing our streets, but how about regular old cops?

The history of the police

Right about here, “Adam Ruins Cops” took the time to say they didn’t want to bash individual police officers, many of whom are brave and well intentioned, but are being asked to do a job they didn’t sign up for.

And what is that job?

Turns out Miami Vice was not totally accurate. Real police officers make relatively few felony arrests; they mostly spend their time giving out tickets for minor offenses – driving violations, public intoxication, disorderly conduct and possession of small amounts of drugs.

More from Brookings Institute:

Police officers are not as successful as people think at solving violent crime.

Approximately 38% of murders, 66% of rapes, 70% of robberies, and 47% of aggravated assaults go uncleared every year.

According to “Adam Ruins Cops” the police are mostly used to control people society doesn’t like: the mentally ill, the homeless and drug addicts. And minority communities get policed more stringently than those of us with a paler complexion.

Historically, we have used the police to suppress, harass and keep people we don’t like out of sight.

A former cop who supports defunding

Toward the end of “Adam Ruins Cops” the show introduced Larry Smith, a former Baltimore City police officer. Smith was a cop for 18 years and has an interesting point of view.

Smith said he was encouraged to arrest people that didn’t need to be in jail; they needed help and if some of the funding that went to police departments went to social programs instead – stuff like education, social services and mental health treatment – it would do more good than putting more cops on the streets.

So we can spend the money on programs that might prevent crime or spend it on the police to deal with crimes after they happen.

“Adam Ruins Cops” listed the sources for the evidence presented so if you really want to know where they got their facts, look it up on YouTube TV.

In conclusion

As you might already know there’s a bajillion studies out there and some of them will contradict the arguments for defunding the police.

What you believe is totally up to you.

But it did seem worthwhile to point out there’s some credible arguments for spending some of that police money elsewhere or retraining or reorganizing America’s police departments. If the mentally ill, the homeless and drug addicts are the problem, why not give some of that police money to the people best equipped to deal with them?

“Defund the police” isn’t as crazy as it sounds.

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